The odds have been against the Chicago Blackhawks reaching their third Stanley Cup Finals in six years, but the wildcard team made it look easy on Saturday night when they quickly defeated the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Who would have thought that weeks ago the team that seemed worn down and just plain worn out from so many games could turn it around just when they needed it? The Ducks thought they had it too as the media was pretty set on them meeting up with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blackhawks proved they had it in them on Game 2 which turned out to be the seventeenth longest game in NHL history.
The Blackhawks made their dominance known in the first period in what was easily a masterful game where they were never threatened by the Ducks at Honda Center. They may have been trailing in the Western Conference finals 3-2, but that’s a distant memory as they will go on to the Stanley Cup Final and face the Tampa Bay Lightning who defeated the New York Rangers in seven games on Friday.
“They played better than us tonight,” Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said after a game in which his team trailed 4-0 at one point. “I’m not telling you they’re a better team than us. I’m telling you they played better than us tonight, played good enough to win.”
Elsewhere in the room, there were admissions that Chicago proved itself to be the worthy victor. Not only did the Blackhawks withstand a barrage of hits in the series, they responded with sharp execution around the net when it mattered most.
Getzlaf’s opposing captain, Jonathan Toews, showed his championship mettle by scoring the game’s first two goals and at 13 minutes, 45 seconds of the second period, Chicago’s lead bulged to 4-0.
“They came to play,” said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who fought tears after committing two giveaways and finishing with a minus-two rating.
“I made a couple plays I wish I could’ve had back. Those are hopefully things I can learn from, and try to do better next time.”
The Ducks, after posting 31 come-from-behind victories this season, had little chance at a rally this time after scuffling for scoring chances throughout most of the first two periods until Ryan Kesler scored with 1:09 left in the second.
“You put yourself down four goals in a Game 7 … the comeback kids can only come around so often,” Fowler said. “Credit to them. They were the better team tonight.
“It’s miserable, an awful feeling, we let a lot of people down. We had a special thing going. For it to be over is a pretty surreal feeling.”
Not only has Anaheim lost four consecutive Game 7s dating to 2009, they’ve blown 3-2 series leads and lost Game 7s at home in three consecutive seasons. Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau dropped to 1-6 in Game 7s.
“We took ourselves a round further, but, ultimately, that Game 7 we’ve got to be able to finish,” Getzlaf said.
The Ducks started the night trying to prove their demons were in the distant past. Instead, they were reduced to again witnessing the separation between where they are and what it takes.
Toews went to the net early, a good place to be considering Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen was struck by a flood of 19 goals (one into an empty net) in the final four games.
Toews saw a blue-line shot from Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson skid through and bounce off the goalie’s left leg pad. Toews whipped the rebound to the net for a 1-0 lead 2:23 into the game.
Then, an intercepted pass from Jakob Silfverberg left the Ducks’ forward to desperately reach for Chicago’s Brandon Saad, a hooking penalty.
On the power play, Toews struck again for his ninth postseason goal. He worked the puck around the Ducks’ defenders, got it back and sent a high shot that beat Andersen to his left. The second-year goalie faced only six first-period shots, giving up the two goals.
In the second period, Saad made it 3-0 after only 1:18, and Hossa right-footed a rebound that Andersen gently pushed to his left with his stick at 13:45. Officials reviewed the goal and found there was “no distinct kicking motion” by Hossa, letting it stand.
Chicago is now 11-4 in elimination games since 2009.
Words weren’t needed to document the collapse. The somber look on Ducks forward Patrick Maroon’s face, the anger of a stick-slamming Matt Beleskey and the quiet of the 17,375 in attendance said everything.
“We expect more — better results,” Maroon said.
“This is going to be in the back of my head all summer long. We wanted a better season, to chase after the Stanley Cup. That’s what we play for, what we dream of. You’ve got to take the opportunities in front of you.
“Two games –— not one, two — we had the opportunity.”
The Hawks never blinked. A sweet shot from Kesler late in the second briefly injected some life into the crowd, and Perry scored with 8:24 left to make it interesting. But Hossa killed the push with a steal and a drawn penalty, and Brent Seabrook sealed it with a power-play goal, as blindsided Ducks fans were mostly drowned out by the sizable Hawks contingent, who chanted and cheered and danced in the aisles throughout the anticlimactic conclusion to an otherwise unforgettable series.
“I can’t put a timetable on it,” Kesler said when asked when he’d get over this one. “Probably never.”
And so it’s onward for the Hawks, who have now won nine playoff series in three years, the gold standard for the salary-cap era — a middling and meaningless regular season behind them, another shot at yet another championship ahead.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Kane said. “But it’s a great step.”
The Stanley Cup Final will open with Game 1 in Tampa on Wednesday.